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people perceived in how many things they had transgressed the Divine word; a fast was therefore appointed, to follow the conclusion of the festival.
This solemn day of humiliation was observed on the twenty-fourth of the same month, at the appointment of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the congregation assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads. They separated themselves from strangers, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. A public confession was made by the Levites in the name of the people, and in their hearing, and a solemn vow and covenant then was made, that these sins should be avoided in future, and God's laws observed. A number of the rulers, priests, and Levites, signed and sealed this covenant, while the people at large solemnly made oath to observe it. The principal conditions were-not to intermarry with the Gentiles; to observe the sabbaths and the sabbatical year; to provide for the service and work of the house of God, with the offerings, and the first fruits and tithes, for the support of the Levites. In this solemn engagement, reference evidently was made to those blessings which were typified by the sacrifices and offerings.
Ignorance of the Divine law had led to much evil; arrangements, therefore, were from this time made for the regular reading and expounding of portions of the law and the prophets, in the public assemblies for religious worship. The institution of the synagogues has already been mentioned; it is supposed to have taken place about this period. Let it never be forgotten, that upon the due observance of public worship very much of the religious feeling of a community depends. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." This was the injunction by the apostle; and we well know that our blessed Lord, while upon earth, was constant in public religious services. Prideaux speaks in strong terms of the importance of regular weekly
THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.
public instruction in the truths of religion. He says, "It is not to be doubted but if this method were once dropped among us, the generality of the people, whatever else was done to obviate it, would in seven years relapse into as bad a state of barbarity, as was ever in practice among the worst of our Saxon and Danish ancestors." The synagogue services were not confined to once in a week: it is much to be lamented that the weekly services, lectures, and assembling for reading the word and prayer, are so scantily attended among us. This is one evil result of the excessive eagerness and increased exertion in matters of business at the present day; but it should be remembered, that although Martha was not blamed for active attention to her worldly duties, yet she carried this too far, and Mary's preference for the one thing needful was commended.
Nehemiah gave assistance to the great work of collecting the Holy Scriptures. He evidently aided, as far as was in his power, to make the Bible accessible to the people. In the second book of the Maccabees, it is stated, that "he, founding a library, gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts." The latter probably refers to the decrees of the Persian kings, contained in Ezra and Nehemiah. This account also notices the writings and commen. taries of Nehemiah.
The attention of Ezra, in collecting the books of Scripture, with the arrangements made by himself and Nehemiah and others, that the people should be acquainted with their contents, under the Divine blessing, was one great means of preventing the Jews from relapsing into idolatry. Although their sufferings in captivity were so far forgotten, that they fell into many and grievous errors, it was not by idolatry, against which they were so plainly and constantly warned by the Holy Scriptures. Satan's most effectual plan to deceive the Jews, from this time, appears
to have been, by inducing them to have an overweening opinion of the Divine preference for their nation, in appointing them the depositaries of his word, and to add vain traditions; in fact, making the word of God of none effect through their traditions, though they professed to venerate every jot and tittle of the Bible. Let this warn us to beware how we listen to those who teach for doctrines the commandments of men, and thus add to the Bible that which is not expressly set forth therein, as of equal or even greater authority than the full and plain precepts of Scripture. Even the pagan emperor, Julian the apostate, was so fully convinced of the importance of a people being thoroughly acquainted with the writings they receive as sacred, that he ordered his heathen philosophers to prepare a course of instruction from the best works of heathenism, that it might be taught instead of the Bible! His effort failed; he was cut off by a Divine judgment, as he expressly acknowledged, before his plan was brought into use; but let the Christian hence learn to value his Bible, and to seek to make others acquainted with its contents.
There is not any farther account of Ezra recorded in Scripture. Josephus states that he died at Jerusalem; but the general tradition of the Jews is, that he died at Zamsuma on the Tigris, when on his way to Susa, to communicate to Artaxerxes on the affairs of the Jews. A building surrounded by walls, stated to be his tomb, is shown near the river Tigris, about twenty miles above its junction with the Euphrates. It was rebuilt by the Mohammedans about a century ago, on the site of a more extensive building, visited and described by Benjamin of Tudela in the twelfth century. A tribe of Arabs guard this tomb; they levy contributions from the pilgrims who visit it; these are numerous, chiefly Jews."
A Refiner of Silver, from an ancient Egyptian Sculpture.
NEHEMIAH'S FURTHER EFFORTS FOR GOOD-
NEHEMIAH remained twelve years at Jerusalem, governing the city; during the whole of this time he lived in a very hospitable manner, daily receiving at his table a hundred and fifty of the principal Jews, besides strangers. The expense of this establishment he bore from his private funds, without taking the allowance due to him from his office, which he might fairly and lawfully have received. He mentions this as a testimony that he desired the welfare of the people, not as a ground of self-confidence or merit, but with earnest prayer that he might be remembered for good. The apostle Paul, like Nehemiah, found it needful to silence gainsayers, by stating his own upright conduct, and the motives from which he acted. This may still be necessary at times; but the believer
considers such things as the fruits of Divine grace, and only as evidences of justifying faith, not as the ground of his justification.
Having thus set a good example, Nehemiah had reason to expect that those whom he left in authority would show themselves equally disinterested, and free from self-seeking, or covetousness, or desire to promote the interests of their immediate connexions at the expense of the public welfare, or by injuring the cause of God. About B.c. 432, Nehemiah returned to the court of Persia. How long he remained there is uncertain, nor are we informed respecting his engagements there. Prideaux supposes he remained at least five years away from Judea. Hales calculates he was eight years absent. It was an interval long enough for the revival of many corruptions.
On his return to Jerusalem, he found much evil prevailing, from marriages with the neighbouring people. Eliashib the high priest had allowed Tobiah the Ammonite to have an apartment appropriated for his use, even in the temple. It was a large chamber, the proper use of which was to store the offerings and portions of the Levites and priests. Nehemiah caused the furniture and goods of Tobiah to be cast out, and restored the chamber to the purposes for which it was designed. He found, also, that the Levites had been deprived of their portions; so that they were compelled to leave the services of the temple to cultivate their lands themselves, for their maintenance. Nehemiah appointed faithful men to see to the due distribution of the Levites' portions among them.
Another serious evil was, that in the neglect of the Divine command, and of their own solemn covenant, some of the Jews followed their customary labours on the sabbath, while others purchased on that day fish and other articles brought by the men of Tyre for sale. The former of these evils Nehemiah stopped, by reminding the nobles of Judah, that sabbath breaking was one of the crying sins which brought down judgments on their fathers. The latter was put an